IBIA contributes to IMO’s sulphur testing and verification framework

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Amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to help ensure consistent implementation of the global 0.50% sulphur cap, developed at the 6th meeting of the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 6), will be sent for approval by the Marine Environment Protection Committee in May (MEPC 74), along with a detailed set of guidelines. As an NGO with consultative status at the IMO, IBIA has been contributing to this work through submitting proposals and actively taking part in discussions at IMO meetings.

PPR 6 completed draft IMO guidelines for consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI, covering multiple aspects, which you can read more about here, but this report will focus on issues around verifying compliance with sulphur limits, where IBIA has been particularly proactive in seeking sensible solutions to known and anticipated problems.

New definitions under MARPOL Annex VI

Back in February 2018, IBIA presented a proposal to PPR 5 to define sulphur content in Regulation 2 of Annex VI using the most suitable specific reference test method, ISO 8754 to ensure analysis is done in a uniform and consistent way, including the test result reporting protocol, to avoid differences in application. Such differences have been heard of, at times causing ships to be deemed non-compliant with the 0.10% sulphur limit in emission control areas (ECAs) on unsound grounds. This proposal gained traction and was taken up by a member state in a subsequent IMO submission.

The following new definition agreed at PPR 6 will be forwarded to MEPC 74 for approval:
Sulphur content of fuel oil means the concentration of sulphur in a fuel oil, measured in % m/m as tested in accordance with a standard acceptable to the Organization.*

The * refers to a footnote specifying the use of ISO 8754:2003. This is consistent with the test method referenced in a footnote to appendix V of MARPOL Annex VI regarding information to be included in the bunker delivery note, which says the supplier should state the fuel’s sulphur content based on analysis done using this test method.

PPR 6 also developed further draft amendments to Regulation 2 (Definitions) to specify names for three types of samples which may be used by competent authorities to verify compliance with the applicable sulphur limits (0.10% in ECAs and 0.50% outside ECAs).

These are to be known as the “MARPOL delivered sample”, referring to the representative sample the bunker supplier is required to provide to the ship at the time of delivery; “In-use sample”, to mean the sample of fuel oil in use on a ship; and “Onboard sample” defined as a sample of fuel oil intended to be used or carried for use on board that ship.

There was a long discussion about this in the PPR 6 Working Group on Air Pollution that was developing the draft amendments. Quite a few wanted to put “MARPOL” in front of all the three types of samples. IBIA argued that this would cause confusion throughout the industry, where the “MARPOL sample” is a well-known term for the sample taken at the time of delivery. Moreover, this is in fact the only type of sample that is obligatory under MARPOL Annex VI, whereas taking samples from a ship (in-use or onboard) to check for compliance is done only at the discretion of the competent authorities. IBIA was pleased to see a majority of the sub-committee supporting this view.

Amendments to appendix VI on sulphur verification procedure

PPR 6 developed amendments to appendix VI to verify sulphur content, which currently applies only to the MARPOL sample, so that it also covers verification of in-use fuel oil and onboard fuel oil samples. It was due to this amendment that PPR 6 needed to develop definitions for all three types of samples. The opening paragraph of the amended appendix VI states that the “relevant verification procedure shall be used to determine whether the fuel oil delivered to, used or carried for use on board a ship is compliant with the applicable sulphur limits”.

The current procedure under appendix VI requires the average of two test results from a single laboratory to test at or below the applicable sulphur limit to be deemed compliant. If it exceeds the limit + 0.59R (the 95% confidence limit for precision of the test method) it will be deemed non-compliant, but if it is between the limit and the limit +0.59R the sample should be sent for analysis at a second laboratory for a further two test results. The average of all four test results must meet the limit.

What was agreed at PPR 6 was to rely solely on the average of two tests at a single laboratory, and to have two different procedures as follows:

Part 1 – MARPOL delivered sample: 95% confidence will not apply – the average test result must be at or below the applicable limit (0.10% or 0.50% sulphur).

Part 2 – Fuel oil in use or carried for use on board (in-use and onboard samples) –   95% confidence will apply, meaning an average test result up to the limit +0.59R will be considered to have met the regulatory requirement.

IBIA has been advocating applying the 95% confidence limit to all samples used for verifying compliance with MARPOL sulphur limit, in particular for samples taken from ships. Moreover, in light of the carriage ban on fuel oils exceeding 0.50% sulphur, due to take affect from 1 March 2020, IBIA has pointed out that in cases where the MARPOL sample fails to meet the 0.50% sulphur limit, the ship would consequently also be non-compliant with the carriage ban, although the fault would lie with the supplier. After polling our members about their preferences, IBIA co-sponsored a submission to PPR 6 which proposed to treat all types of samples the same, whether authorities use in-use samples, MARPOL samples or samples taken from a ship’s fuel tank to determine compliance.

Disappointingly, there was insufficient support at PPR 6 for this way forward, which would make the sulphur verification procedure consistent and easier for port State control officers around the world to understand.

There is a significant risk that a single laboratory will report a non-compliant test result for a fuel that is, in fact, compliant. The current requirement for testing at a second laboratory if the first returns a test result above the limit, but within 95% confidence, helps reduce that risk, which is why IBIA and co-sponsors also asked to at least keep that in place if PPR could not agree to treating all samples the same. This was also not supported at PPR 6.

The agreed draft amendments to MARPOL Annex VI will be sent to MEPC 74 for approval, and if approved, for subsequent adoption by MEPC 75 which will be held in spring 2020, with an expected entry force date in mid-2021.

Sulphur testing advice in IMO’s 2020 Guidelines for consistent implementation

The amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to add a definition of “sulphur content” under regulation 2 and to appendix VI ensuring that 95% confidence is at least given when analysing in-use or onboard fuel oil samples, if approved and adopted, will not take effect until mid-2021 at the earliest. Because of this, IBIA and co-sponsors submitted a proposal to PPR 6 to ensure this was at least addressed in the Guidelines for consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI.

This proposal was successful, and suggested language incorporated as follows under the header “Fuel oil sample analysis”:

“When an Administration decides to analyse a fuel oil sample to determine compliance with the sulphur limits in regulation 14.1 or 14.4, the final analysis should be carried out in accordance with ISO 8754:2003 by a laboratory that is accredited for the purpose of conducting the test in accordance with ISO/IEC 17025 or an equivalent standard. The test results should be in accordance with ISO 8754 reporting protocol, meaning a tested value at or above 0.10% sulphur should be reported with no more than two decimal places.”

“In detecting suspected non-compliance, the sample analysis should be conducted in a uniform and reliable manner as described in the above paragraph. The verification procedure for MARPOL delivered samples should be in accordance with appendix VI of MARPOL Annex VI. For other samples taken on board the ship, the in-use and onboard sample, the sample should be deemed to meet the requirements provided the test result from the laboratory does not exceed the specification limit +0.59R (where R is the reproducibility of the test method) and no further testing is necessary.”

We do have a remaining concern following PPR 6, because similar language still needs to be incorporated in the draft amendments to the 2009 Guidelines for port State control under the revised MARPOL Annex VI, which simply refer to undertaking sample analysis “in accordance with appendix VI of MARPOL Annex VI”.  This has been raised and should be addressed at MEPC 74 to ensure ships are not subjected to analysis of in-use or onboard samples in accordance with the current appendix VI, which does not fully recognise the 95% confidence principle.

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